Hlaele backs Rapapa for Prime Minister

  • as four ABC factions emerge in Thabane succession race

Herbert Moyo

RULING All Basotho Convention (ABC) secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, has thrown his weight behind party chairperson in the race to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Mr Hlaele said the long-drawn out succession drama had also resulted in the emergence of four distinct party factions backing Mr Rapapa, ABC deputy spokesperson ’Matebatso Doti, Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Public Works Minister Prince Maliehe for the top job.

He however, said Mr Rapapa should be given the nod because as chairperson he was the most senior eligible party official. As ABC leader, Dr Thabane is the most senior party official, followed by deputy leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao. Dr Thabane is stepping down and Prof Mahao is ineligible on account of the fact that he is not a member of the National Assembly as per the constitutional requirements for one to be appointed Prime Minister.

Mr Hlaele said it was important for the ABC to do the right thing and set the correct precedent by nominating the most senior party official for the top post. He said failure to speedily nominate a successor would open the door for Deputy Prime Minister and Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader, Monyane Moleleki, to take over until such a time the ABC had put its house in order. He however, said that Mr Moleleki was a “shrewd politician” who would be difficult to dislodge once he had tasted the trappings of power.

The 80-year-old Dr Thabane announced last month that he was stepping down due to advanced age after more than 50 years in the civil service and active politics. Although he did not announce a date, his impending departure is causing serious problems within the ABC where Mr Rapapa has emerged as one of the three main contenders alongside ABC deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi and Ms Doti.

Even then, some party stalwarts who are not members of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) including ministers, Dr Majoro (Finance), Prince Maliehe (Public Works) and Tefo Mapesela (Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation) are also said to be eyeing the top job.

Last week, an irate Mr Rapapa criticised his ABC colleagues for throwing spanners in his bid to succeed Dr Thabane, saying he should be allowed a free and unchallenged path to the top job by virtue of his seniority in the party hierarchy behind Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao.

The ABC chair was the poster boy of the 2019 campaign by ABC legislators loyal to Prof Mahao to oust Dr Thabane in a no confidence motion which was filed in parliament at the height of the ABC power struggles last June.

The legislators had proposed Mr Rapapa to succeed Dr Thabane as caretaker Prime Minister but the motion is now dead in the water after it was made redundant by the latter’s decision to quit. However, Mr Rapapa said he was unhappy that instead of nominating him to take over, as the third most senior party official, the ABC had opened up the succession race to other party officials.

He accused his colleagues of using him in the fight for Dr Thabane’s ouster only to attempt to block his path to the top job when it became clear that the premier was on his way out.

He said by virtue of being third in the party hierarchy, he should be taking over without being subjected to a succession contest with fellow ABC stalwarts.

This week, Mr Rapapa received the full backing of Mr Hlaele who said while the process to choose Dr Thabane’s successor was delicate and long-drawn out, on account of the mistrust and rivalries which persisted in the party, the ABC chair should be given the nod on the grounds of his seniority in the party hierarchy.

Mr Hlaele revealed that despite several meetings between the party’s NEC and ABC legislators throughout last week and early this week, there was still no agreement on the candidate to take over from Dr Thabane.

“To be honest we haven’t reached a decision on that matter (of the successor),” Mr Hlaele told the Lesotho Times.

“We are in a process of massaging each other because it’s a very sensitive matter. With our background of infighting from last February up until now we need to massage each other.

“We feel very strongly that a final decision on the successor lies with the national executive committee of the ABC. However, we want the parliamentarians to have a buy-in. We don’t want them to make a decision but to have a buy-in so that at the end of the day everybody feels that they were part of the process. We (NEC) asked them (legislators) to throw in a name or names of a possible successor as proposals to the NEC. We already have our own names but once we have their names, we will be in a position to say who the best candidate is.

“But there’s a principle that guides us and that is the principle of hierarchy in the party. My understanding is simply that when the leader of the party goes, he is followed by the deputy who in this case is ineligible and so the chair is next in line. The (February 2019) conference of the ABC elected Rapapa as the chairperson and that means that the rank and file of ABC has confidence and trust in this man. Nobody can change that.

“As the NEC, our mandate is to run the ABC in between conferences and nobody else has that mandate except the ABC. Now in the NEC, Rapapa is the second in line and Rapapa must be trusted in that position of prime minister on behalf of the ABC members who have shown confidence and trust in him. If we bring in confusion and debates, we are bringing in our personal and selfish interests, not the interests of the party. The party has pronounced itself to say this is the man they want as chairperson. If Nqosa Mahao was in parliament there wouldn’t be a debate again, because he would be the second in charge and therefor qualify to succeed the leader.

“We will stick to the hierarchy of the party and that is a principle that you cannot undermine. You have to be guided by that principle because…we don’t want to set a bad precedent. I am the secretary general of the party- a person who is expected to advise the entire committee about the direction of the party. When the NEC sits next week, I will push for us to stick to the party hierarchy. We should maintain the correct principles,” said Mr Hlaele.

A fortnight ago Mr Hlaele told this publication that he expected the party to have agreed on a candidate in time for the opening of parliament which was then expected to be on 14 February 2020 but has now been set for 21 February 2020.

But two weeks later and despite several meetings between the NEC and ABC legislators, the party is nowhere near agreeing on the candidate. Mr Hlaele attributed this failure on the mistrust between the factions which backed Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao in their year-long power struggle which only ended last month after Dr Thabane agreed to step down.

He said the process of choosing the successor had been complicated by the emergence of four distinct factions backing Ms Doti, Mr Rapapa, Dr Majoro and Mr Maliehe.  The other candidate, Mr Kabi, has publicly declared his support for Dr Majoro, saying he would only contest if the finance minister was barred from the contest by the NEC.

Mr Hlaele said at their Sunday meeting with ABC legislators, he had stressed the importance on quickly resolving the succession issue. He warned that failure to do so would open the door for Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki to take over until such a time the ABC had put its house in order.

“So far, the MPs have failed to submit names of candidates to us. We were of the hope that on Sunday they’ll be in a position to give us names but that didn’t materialise. I think that can happen anytime soon, but for now I’ll be unable to say these are the names because they are not there,” Mr Hlaele said. He said despite the rumours of Dr Majoro and others as candidates, only Ms Doti and Messrs Rapapa and Kabi were the official candidates for now.

He added: “There are those in Prince Maliehe’s faction, there are those who want Majoro, there are those who want ‘M’e Doti and there are those who want Rapapa”.

“This is despite that Rapapa and ‘M’e Doti are presumed to be in the same faction of Mahao. What surprises us again is that Prince and Majoro were assumed to be in Thabane’s faction but there are now in two different factions. All these are factions because these (Doti, Rapapa, Majoro and Maliehe are people who have followers…

“On Sunday we met with MPs. There was a debate with some saying we have to come up with the name of the successor that very day (Sunday). There was another view that we should wait until we know the date that the Prime Minister will step down. I then said that the danger or the threat that I’m seeing is that if the Prime Minister wakes up tomorrow and says I’m leaving now, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Moleleki) will take over until we (the ABC) have sorted ourselves out.

“Again, the danger is that the Deputy Prime Minister is a shrewd politician. It may be that that because of his good performance as Prime Minister for two or three months, we in the ABC will be divided and some will say let’s leave this man to carry on until 2022 (when the next elections are due). Because of his performance and cooperation between the ABC and his office, we will be saying now let’s forget about removing him. Those are dangers that I showed them (ABC legislators). These are two dangers that we’re actually heading into if we fail to make a decision on the successor. So, my advice was, ‘please make a decision, failing which, the Deputy Prime Minister will take over if the Prime Minister suddenly woke up and said he was going’.

My submission was that they (ABC legislators) must give us a name for consideration so that as the NEC, we would make the final decision and proceed to meet our coalition partners to give them the name of our candidate to take over from Dr Thabane,” Mr Hlaele said.

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